Sunday, June 15, 2008

Liveblogging the Tony Awards

Tonight's the night. After a season of ups and downs, the rivals are meeting tonight in a single arena to decide who will be the ultimate winner. Competition is fierce, of course; it is every year.

I'm prepared, too. I just returned from Kroger with an eight-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a package of chicken wings. I'll be settling into my easy chair to watch television, uninterrupted, for the next three hours.

The broadcast channels know what a big night this is, too, with all of them deferring to CBS. The CW has reruns of Everybody Hates Chris and Aliens in America. The local PBS affiliate is having a pledge drive. Fox has reruns of The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, and American Dad. NBC has a Saturday Night Live prime-time clip show, and ABC is running some basketball game.

That's because America is focused on the Tony Awards. Broadway's big night is here, hosted by The View's Whoopi Goldberg.

Isn't that worthy of live blogging?

8:03 p.m.: A production number from Disney's The Lion King (coming soon to Washington for the first time, at the Kennedy Center) opens the show. This season marked the show's tenth year on Broadway.

8:04 p.m.: Whoopi takes the stage in a crab costume from Disney's The Little Mermaid. The opening credits begin.

8:06 p.m.: Whoopi says, "Welcome to the 62nd Annual Tony Awards." She announces that there will be excerpts from shows that are not nominated (e.g., Young Frankenstein). She introduces the first presenter, Laurence Fishburne, and takes an unnecessary dig at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (eliciting some boos from the audience). (She implies that Thomas is not "black.")

8:08 p.m.: Fishburne presents the award for best featured actress in a play. The winner is Rondi Reed for August: Osage County.

8:11 p.m.: John Waters takes the stage. "Yes, I'm back. Can you believe it?" He's introducing a musical number from Cry-Baby, which is based on his film of the same name. He wonders if "there are actually prisoners watching the Tony show tonight. Talk about a new minority!"

8:15 p.m.: Musical number from the first nominated musical, Cry-Baby, ends.

8:20 p.m.: A spotlight on Jersey Boys, winner of best musical in 2006.

8:21 p.m.: Backstage with Whoopi, pointing out that viewers can go to to see the "Thank You Cam."

8:22 p.m.: Laura Linney presents the award for best featured actor in a play. The winner is Jim Norton for The Seafarer. It is his first Tony. He shouts: "I love New York!"

8:25 p.m.: Adam Duritz of Counting Crows announces the number from Passing Strange, set in an Amsterdam coffee house.

8:36 p.m.: Two-time Tony winner John Lithgow presents the Tony for best direction of a musical. The winner is Bartlett Sher for the first Broadway revival of South Pacific.

8:39 p.m.: Jack Klugman, who was in the original cast of Gypsy, for which he was nominated for a Tony, introduces a number from the latest revival of that show. Patti Lupone sings "Everything's Coming Up Roses," perhaps the most frightening song every sung by a mother to her daughter. (After seeing this, I really want to see Lupone's "Rose's Turn.")

8:45 p.m.: A number from 1988's Phantom of the Opera, with Whoopi as Christine.

8:51 p.m.: We return from a commercial break to the announcement of the special Tonys given earlier this evening to Robert Russell Bennett (posthumously) and the Chicago Shakespeare Company, as well as to best choreographer, best book of a musical, best orchestrations, best revival of a play (Boeing-Boeing).

8:52 p.m.: Big Brother's Julie Chen looks back at "the year in plays."

8:54 p.m.: Tony winner Duncan Sheik mentions how Stew won the best book of a musical award for Passing Strange, and presents the award for best score. The award goes to Lin-Manuel Miranda for In the Heights, the early favorite musical with 13 nominations. Miranda's acceptance speech is delivered as a rap. He says, "Mr. Sondheim, look, I made a hat/ where there never was a hat/and a Latin hat at that."

8:57 p.m.: Harry Connick, Jr., introduces a medley from South Pacific, which begins with the Seabee chorus singing "There Is Nothing Like a Dame." Then Paulo Szot sings "Some Enchanted Evening," followed by Kelli O'Hara and the female chorus with "A Wonderful Guy."

9:07 p.m.: A "Broadway Spotlight" on Legally Blonde; Whoopi flies in like (and as) Mary Poppins.

9:08 p.m.: Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth presents the award for featured actress in a musical. The winner is Laura Benanti for her role as Louise in Gypsy. She expresses surprise at seeing Arthur Laurents standing. "Stephen Sondheim," she says, "I just worship you. There are no other words." She describes her mother as "the anti-Mama Rose."

9:11 p.m.: Barry Bostwick, who was in the original Broadway cast of Grease, introduces a number from the revival of that show. The cast sings the title song, "Grease," which comes from the movie soundtrack, not the OCR. (Frankie Valli sang it -- words and music by Barry Gibb -- over the film's credits.) The medley also includes the finale, "We Go Together." So the cast gets to sing both the first and last numbers of the current revival.

9:21 p.m.: A Broadway Spotlight with the cast of the longest-running revival musical, Chicago.

9:22 p.m.: Brooke Shields takes the stage to present the Tony Award for best performance by featured actor in a musical. The winner is veteran Boyd Gaines, for Gypsy; this is his fourth Tony award after five nominations. "I am honored to be in this great American classic," he says, thanking the creators, Stephen Sondheim, the late Jule Styne, and his director, Arthur Laurents.

9:25 p.m.: Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, now on Broadway in Top Girls, offers a taste of the new musicals "that have eight nominations among them," starting with The Little Mermaid. Faith Prince sings a number from A Catered Affair. Megan Mullaly sings to Shuler Hensley in a number from The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein. (This segment seems an attempt by the award show's producers to spotlight tourist-friendly musicals that failed to get nominated in the "best" category.)

9:30 p.m.: I notice that the Internet Broadway Data Base ( is unusually slow in loading tonight.

9:35 p.m.: A Broadway Spotlight on George Wendt and the cast of Hair Spray. Then we get a look behind the scenes at the American Theatre Wing, featuring young actors from current musicals.

9:36 p.m.: Whoopi returns. She introduces a scene from the first nominee for best play, August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts, followed by a scene from Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, and one from Conor MacPherson's The Seafarer. Finally, she introduces a scene from Patrick Barlow's The 39 Steps.

9:42 p.m.: Gabriel Byrne presents the award for best director of a play. The winner is Anna D. Shapiro for August: Osage County. She has a tattoo on her upper right arm, not something you expect to see on a Tony-winning director. She pays tribute to the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago and her parents. She also thanks her six nieces and nephews, "who don't care about any of this; they really don't. They just wanted tickets to Little Mermaid. And I got them."

9:46 p.m.: A scene from Spamalot with Whoopi as the Lady of the Lake; commercial break follows.

9:52 p.m.: A Broadway Spotlight on Mamma Mia!, which comes to Washington's National Theatre later this month.

9:53 p.m.: Mary-Louise Parker takes the stage to present the award for best performance by a leading actor in a play. Despite her flat reading off the teleprompter, the winner is Mark Rylance for Boeing-Boeing. (In announcing nominee Patrick Stewart, she properly says "the Scottish Play" rather than Macbeth; to do otherwise inside a theatre, even inside Radio City Music Hall, would be to invite disaster.) Rylance wins for his Broadway debut and gives a dry, droll acceptance speech.

9:56 p.m.: Emmy winner Alec Baldwin presents the award for best performance by a leading actress in a play. The winner is Deanna Dunagan for August: Osage County.

9:58 p.m.: IBDB is slower than it has ever been.

10:00 p.m.: Whoopi introduces Lin-Manuel Miranda, who begins a number from In the Heights, joined by the rest of the cast. (Good timing; you don't want viewers to switch channels at the top of the hour.) John Kander has said he greatly admires Miranda's music for In the Heights; I'm not sure I could sit through two hours of rap-like recitative.

10:05 p.m.: CBS runs a commercial for Mamma Mia!, the film version of the long-running London- and Broadway musical. That movie opens mere days after the show arrives at the National Theatre in D.C.

10:09 p.m.: The design awards, presented earlier this evening, are rapidly announced to the TV audience. Do they really think that anyone watching the Tonys doesn't really care about these important awards?

10:10 p.m.: A non-nude Daniel Radcliffe and Equus co-star Richard Griffiths (also non-nude) present the award for best new play. The winner is, "as if by magic," August: Osage County. Playwright Tracy Letts accepts the award along with a large crowd of producers, cast, and backers. Letts says "I don't know all these people. I assume they are associated with the play." He adds: "This beats the hell out of auditioning for JAG." He thanks the producers for doing a remarkable thing: "They decided to produce an American play on Broadway with theatre actors!"

10:14 p.m.: Looking like he just stepped out of a production of Fiddler on the Roof as Tevye, Tony winner Mandy Patinkin accepts a special Tony award for lifetime achievement for Stephen Sondheim. Because the recipient could not be present, Patinkin reads a message from Sondheim, who thanks his collaborators. Sondheim says, "I would also share this award with Hal Prince, but he has one already."

10:16 p.m.: Patinkin goes on to mention the original production of Sunday in the Park with George, and introduces scenes from the new Roundabout Theatre Company revival. Jenna Russell and Daniel Evans sing "Move On." (I last saw Evans in his Olivier-winning turn as Charley in the Donmar Warehouse production of Merrily We Roll Along.) Am I alone in this observation, or does Evans look like Andrew Sullivan before Andrew grew a beard?

10:21 p.m.: A scene from last year's winner for best musical, Spring Awakening, with Whoopi and the cast; commercial break.

10:26 p.m.: A Broadway Spotlight on Avenue Q.

10:27 p.m.: Glenn Close presents the award for best revival of a musical. The nominees are Grease, Gypsy, South Pacific, and Sunday in the Park with George. The award goes to South Pacific. Producer Andre Bishop accepts the award. He thanks the daughters of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and Ted Chapin of the R&H Organization.

10:30 p.m.: Lily Tomlin takes the stage to the strains of "Put on a Happy Face." She introduces a scene from best-musical nominee Xanadu. She said she saw it the other night and "I L-M-A-O." She is obviously having problems reading the teleprompter. Tony nominee Kerry Butler, Tony Roberts, Cheyenne Jackson, and the cast sing "Don't Walk Away." Who would have thought that Xanadu, a campy 1980 movie with Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John could one day become a Tony-nominated, hit Broadway musical?

10:40 p.m.: A classic Tony moment: Madonna complains about a short microphone and says, "I'm being punished for not coming to rehearsal today."

10:41 p.m.: Whoopi presents the original company of Rent, beginning with Anthony Rapp, who in turn introduces the current cast in a production number, "La Vie Boheme." He then brings in the original cast to join him. Of course, they mention how Jonathan Larson died of an aortic aneurysm on the day of the first public preview of the show. Of course, they sing "Seasons of Love."

10:46 p.m.: It's Liza! Her lisp is more audible than ever as she presents the award for best performance by a leading actor in a musical. The Tony Award goes to Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot for South Pacific.

10:49 p.m.: Tony winner (for Curtains) David Hyde-Pierce thanks Rob Ashford for "giving me the greatest dance on Broadway ... unfinished business from last year." He presents the award for leading actress in a musical. The winner is Patti Lupone for Gypsy. This is her second Tony; her first came in 1980 for Evita. She sends out her love to her husband, Matt, and their son, Joshua. She thanks everyone who has helped her in the past 35 years. She calls Arthur Laurents "an inspiration to all of us in the theatre." She even thanks the ghosts of the St. James Theater (and there must be many, considering what's played there before). She yells at the orchestra, which is trying to play her off, "Shut up! It's been 29 years!" She talks over "There's No Business Like Show Business" before finally saying good night.

10:53 p.m.: Whoopi joins the cast of the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line in "One." Mario Lopez is at the front of the line. I knew he was in the cast; I hadn't realized he was playing Zach. (That's the closest thing to a non-dancing role in the show; Michael Douglas played it in that dreadful Richard Attenborough movie version.)

10:54 p.m.: IBDB is still slow. Very slow.

10:57 p.m.: Whoopi returns to the microphone to present the award for best new musical. "Seconds from now," she says, "this stage will be filled with producers." The big winner of the night is In the Heights. Producer Jill Furman accepts the award with a throng of producers and cast members.

11:00 p.m.: Whoopi calls this "the greatest night of an actor's life." She encourages the audience to "come to New York to see a Broadway show." The closing credits begin. CBS runs a commercial for "the summer's guilty pleasure," Swingtown.

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